Where's Jay Dee? The third leg of Slum Village -- whose other members include MCs T3 and Baatin -- was also the group's musical linchpin. In addition to creating beats for the Pharcyde, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, Jay Dee brought production skills (and hip-hop celebrity clout) to Slum Village's first LP, Fantastic, Volume 2. On the new Slum Village release, Trinity (Past, Present and Future), his name is missing from the liner notes (it's been replaced by that of newcomer MC Elzhi), and his production credits appear only a handful of times. Fortunately, Dee's absence hasn't left a significant void. Across Trinity's sprawling 23 tracks are some ambitious examples of highly focused, less-is-more production.
Trinity purports to be a concept album -- all of its songs reference the group -- but the device is too overarching and the tracks too abundant to coalesce. Taken individually, however, the tracks possess a tight, lean energy that recalls De La Soul's recent comeback. "Let's" paints a few well-chosen strokes -- a couple of synth lines and modulated vocals -- suggestively, as Slum Village passes judgment from above. "Insane," which could be about the future or the present but certainly addresses the past, begins with a small bounce and slowly multiplies personalities, letting voices slide in and out of the mix. One of the album's best, "Tainted," could have doubled on De La's Bionix and manages to be both smart and sexy, pairing soft-pumped organ with an R&B chorus spun from black silk.
Even as they were adored by the underground, Slum Village absorbed some serious criticism over weak lyrics on Fantastic. This seems to have been an area of focus and, fortunately, improvement on Trinity. The group seems more assured lyrically and more comfortable switching up styles. Their moderate growth still doesn't atone for their occasional slip into embarrassing hip-hop tropes -- such as on "Hoes," where the following truism is expressed: "Some niggaz is hoes."
Trinity is perhaps stretched so long it could cause one's memory to round out the album's peaks, but its content is largely smart enough and grooves deep enough to warrant closer attention to Detroit's Slum Village.